Monday, May 3, 2010

The Other Old Guys - Last Rodeo

I'm sad to see the Spurs, now. And so I root for them. I root for them, too, because I always liked them even though they were never "my" team. One reason I liked them was because everyone else called them boring, and I liked going against the tide. Some other reasons I liked:

-The Little General (second best coach's voice now that Alvin Gentry has entered my life) and his Finals clinching 19 footer.
-Jaren Jackson for 3 (JVG was quoted in that Finals with the Knicks: "I don't want Jaren Jackson to beat us." Throughout the decade, San Antonio has always relied on good spot up 3 point shooters: Kerr, Horry, Ginobili, Bowen, Elliott, and now even Bonner and George Hill to give them a true inside-out. Jaren Jackson, a player with an NBA Live '98 rating of abysmal, was the quintessential outside threat for the Spurs. For me.)
-Tony Parker's ability to be a top 5 in FG% at 6'3" (actually, he would annoy me with his eyebrows and big head even while he amazed me)
-Horry against the Pistons in Game 5 (culminating with the "Stretch Armstrong" dunk over their entire team)
-Tim Duncan

Timmy D is the boring superstar of the boring Spurs. Whatever. In addition to his trademark bank shot, Duncan had a slew of post moves that not only compensated for his relative lack of athleticism, but gave him an advantage on nearly every big man in the NBA. The notable exception was Shaq, who in his prime was the Duncan Stopper...but even then the Lakers could only put him on Duncan in spurts otherwise they'd risk foul trouble and TD bringing the Big Paint Camper out with his mid range jumper.

Duncan's game has slowed as everyone's has, but he's still effective. In his prime? I haven't seen a post player since be sooo money. The Spurs would throw it to Timmy in the 4th, and let him go to work. At 7ft., with his footwork and moves, he'd overpower smaller frontlines, drive on huge bigs, hit hookshots and "squirt shots", and running hooks in the lane. He can still score, pass, rebound, and block shots...but back then he was the most reliable player in the league on both ends of the floor. Nearly none of his offensive moves were jaw dropping, in fact I rarely saw him swish (Duncan's shots always seemed to hit some iron, and didn't have a lot of arc) inside shots. No flair to the Big Fundamental. He just went to work, and got it done.

My favorite Duncan sequence was against the Nets in the finals, against the tattooed, high-leaping, rim bending, howling, bare chest exposing Kmart. He was an anti-Duncan, in case the previous description's didn't make it clear. Kmart had a very quick spin to his right, from the left block, which he could turn into a flip shot or a dunk. I think he used it effectively on the Walker Wiggle when the Nets played the Celtics. Anyways, the sequences, because there were two, went like this:

1. Kmart catches the ball 8ft. from the basket on the left block, TD at his back.
2. One dribble, and the super quick spin to his right gets him around Duncan's side.
3. My reaction is worried, it's too easy, Kmart is too quick, and he jumps really high REALLY fast (even now, after double knee surgeries, Martin still shows traces of one of the quickest hops around. fast twitch twitch fibers). In other words, I'm sure he's about to dunk it on TD.
4. Kmart explodes off the ground, and the Kmart missile is met, milliseconds after a successful launch, by a Duncan Ceiling. REJECTED!!!
5. Kmart comes back down to earth, dejected.

second sequence:
Repeat steps 1-4, with step 3 now a reaction of eager anticipation for step 4 which of course happens again.
5. Kmart comes back down, screaming at the refs for a foul. Doesn't come.

Tim Duncan was a genius on offense AND defense. He literally let Kmart go by him, and then obliterated his move. Twice. In a row. I liked him immensely every since.

Anyways, TD with his sagging shoulders and puppy-like expression is endearing. As are all these old champions. They are nice guys, all of them, I believe. Part of the San Antonio Spurs culture. Their coach is even nicknamed Pop. Maybe I buy into the marketing of this franchise too much, but I was so happy when they beat their Texas rivals in the first round.

And that's why I'm sad now, because they're down 3-0 to a Suns team that is better. During the regular season, I saw them blow leads and turn the ball over in crunch time. Back in their heyday, a 7 point lead by the Spurs was like a 15 point lead because of their team defense. Not anymore. They are like a grandfather figure of sorts in the NBA, utterly strong and dependable, wise and humble, they trumped doubters many many times. But Father Time's hand continues to rest on shoulders and pass over brows; the sad fact is age claims everyone in the end. The playoff series against the Mavs showed the old men could still fight...but no one comes back from 3-0.

I just hope the Spurs can take one, maybe even two, games from Phoenix. I'm not ready for them to ride out into the sunset. I'm not ready to wave 'bye' to the most dependable NBA team of the decade.